GORUCK Light Class 043: Massanutten, VA


GORUCK Light Class 043 – Photo by Kit Klein

Late last month I completed my first GORUCK Light as part of Class 043 in Massanutten, Virginia. For those not familiar, GORUCK Light (GRL) is a shorter version of the GORUCK Challenge (GRC), meant to be more accessible to participants. While the GORUCK Challenge bills itself as 8-10 hours and 15-20 miles, the Light is billed as only 4-5 hours and 7-10 hours. Of course for both events the motto of “Under Promise, Over Deliver” still applies.

Instead the more common motto emerging for GORUCK Light is that “Light ≠ Easy.” Within the GORUCK Tough (GRT) community, early reports were that the only thing light about it was the sky. Since most GRCs start at 1am, compared to most GRLs starting at 7am, this seemed apt to me.

If you want a good background on what to expect from a GORUCK Light, check out this video on their site or this post on the GORUCK News section. The generally gist of these is that Light is for everyone, that it’s much more fun and easier than a Challenge and people should try one. Which is all true.

Class 043 was unique in that it was open only to people who are signed up for the GORUCK Nasty 001 obstacle course in September. I’d guess that about 85-90% of our class of forty-five were GRTs. The course is at the Massanutten ski area in Virginia. The whole GRL was spent on the slopes of the ski mountain.

A traditional GORUCK Challenge usually starts with the Welcome Party – a PT session that can run one to two hours that forces the class to start working as a team, instead of as individuals. The GORUCK Light Welcome Party for Class 043 was much more of a party, complete with singing songs off-key.

In hindsight, the GRL Class 043 Welcome Party reminded me a lot of the old Jerry Seinfeld joke about whenever guys hug, they slap each other on the back, as if to say, “Sure, I’m hugging you…but I’m hitting you.” The Welcome Party was on a rocky hill and consisted of a lot of low crawling and staying in a high forward leaning rest. Oh plus some inchworm pushups. There was nothing easy about it. Between the work we had to do and the heat, I ended up pretty well smoked (the temperature was in the low/mid 90s, there was no shade on the ski slopes and it was soupy hot with the humidity).

After getting a cooling dunk in a nearby stream, we moved on to put a couple of Nasty obstacles through the paces. This was effectively the biggest down time of the entire GORUCK Light, as only one person could go over the obstacle at a time. By the time our class was done with the second obstacle, I’d recovered from the Welcome Party and felt ready to handle whatever was thrown at us.

It turned out, up next was the heading up the ski slope. We were slow getting organized and took a bunch of casualties – that is, we had to buddy carry a good portion of the class up the hill. By the time we reached the next time hack, people were pretty hot again & this lead to us getting put in the water again. When it feels like it’s in the upper 90s and you’re carrying 35 pounds on your back, plus lots of extra coupons, cold water is a truly great thing.


Class 043’s telephone pole. Photo by Kit Klein.

This was about the time that we our log – in this case, a full-on telephone pole. I’ve only ever had regular, old fashioned, irregular, knobby, nail-filled logs in my Challenges. The upside of a telephone pole is that it’s even all the way around. The downside is that it’s a damn telephone pole. We spent a whole lot of time under the log. Down the hill, up the hill, across the hill, up the hill, down the hill. It wasn’t the longest time I’ve had to move a log around at a GORUCK event, but my shoulders ended up more trashed than ever before.

Eventually we were able to get rid of the log and were told our final task was to get up to the summit of the mountain in a thirty minute time hack. We were given a choice between taking a mile-plus service road or going head on at it, straight up the chair lift line. In what was surely a sign that we were collectively suffering from mental failures due to the heat,  we choose the direct approach. We made it up, but it was pretty rough on a few people at this point. Lots of people were fighting the heat and dehydration. I had to deal with cramps in my quads, calves and stomach, though I just kept hydrating and kept moving as best I could.

When we were done, we were awarded our GORUCK Light patches and a great view of the surrounding area from the summit. The event took a bit over five hours – far shorter than a regular Challenge, but the class did some serious work in it.

We had three cadre for the outsized class – GORUCK founder Jason McCarthy, Cadre Chris and Cadre Devin. One thing that I want to say is how great the cadre were at keeping us hydrated. We refilled water bladders & bottles as a class three times. By the time I was done, I’d drank at least three full 100 ounce bladders of Nuun-boosted water. And I was still fighting off cramps from the heat at the end. I can’t imagine how much worse we would have fared without diligent oversight by the cadre.

The question when it comes to GORUCK Light is how it compares to a full GORUCK Challenge. I’d put it this way: the GRL was easier than than either of the Challenges I’ve done because those extra hours are a lot of work, with a lot more time where you have to fight your demons and doubts.

That said,  when I was done with five-plus hours of the GRL, I probably couldn’t have gone another seven hours to get to normal Challenge length. I was smoked. While the Light was easier than either of the Challenges I’ve completed, there was no one five hour stretch in my Challenges that were as hard as the five hours of Light Class 043.

In the Challenges I’ve done or seen while shadowing, there are periods of intense work followed usually by periods of moving long distances. Sure a lot of the movement has added weight, but there are stretches where you get to catch your breath as you find a rhythm to move forward over the miles. If you’re fighting cold or blisters or injury, traveling far distances in a Challenge can be brutally hard physically and mentally taxing. But they’re still a break in intensity.

Light Class 043 had almost no breaks in intensity, except when we were climbing over the two test obstacles and another point of doing pull ups. Other than that, it was non-stop go, with heavy weight and steep hills.

Going into the GORUCK Light, I thought a lot about Cadre Jason relating his experience of leading a Challenge in Okinawa with a class made up primarily of Force Recon Marines (read: some serious tough dudes). There are people in the GRT community who do back-to-back Challenges – something which is an undoubtedly tough thing to do. At the end of the Challenge in Okinawa, Jason asked the Recon Marines if anyone wanted to go out again in a few hours to complete the back-to-back. No one said yes, because they had all given everything they had in them to get through the one Challenge.

I knew the Light was going to be significantly shorter and thus easier than the GRCs I’d done. But I went into it with the intention of being truly smoked when I was done. Between the work we did and the heat we did it in, I was. I don’t say this to sound tough – it’s just that a way to ensure that a Light isn’t easy is to give it everything you can. Everyone will give a different amount, but it adds up to the total the team can get done together – that’s the beauty of GORUCK events.

If you’re thinking about doing a GORUCK Light, go for it. You can finish it and you’ll have a lot of fun while doing it. And hopefully, it will make you want to go out and earn a GORUCK Tough patch for finishing a full-on Challenge.

All photos by Kit Klein of GORUCK. See the full photo set from GRL Class 043 on flickr

Life Edited Apartment

This is probably the best designed small apartment I’ve ever seen.

Via Huckberry.

Jerry Seinfeld on writing jokes

The article this is based around on Seinfeld is pretty fantastic.

Doing Instagram Right

Great video, great guide.

Changing things up

One of the things that I know about my body is that it responds well to frequent changes in workouts and doing things I’ve never done before. Sadly I also know that tend to get into workout habits which leads to diminished results. To help me change things up, I’ll often just search around the internet for crossfit-type workouts. I don’t really do crossfit, but find that periodically mixing in workouts that come from crossfit works well for me.

The other day I stumbled upon The WOD Shop, which looks like it will be a regular resource for me. It randomly displays Workouts of the Day (WOD) for users. I played around a bit and found two that looked like they’d fit well in combination.

Part I

3 Rounds, 22 – 16 – 10x reps

Kettlebell Front Squat (2x 36#)
Bent Row (2x 36#)

Part II

Every Minute On The Minute (until failure)

Kettlebell Snatch

For Every Minute On The Minute exercises, you start with a certain number of reps. It could be one, I did four to start. You have one minute to complete that many reps, adding one each round. If you fail to get it done in time, sit it out for a round, then try again and keep going until you fail.


A Cadre Workout

Here’s a good GORUCK Challenge training workout, courtesy of Cadre Chris.

With a weighted ruck:
Buy in: 800m ruck run
15 minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
5 – push ups
10 – flutter kicks (4 count) with ruck on chest (don’t let it touch the ground!)
15 – Air squats

Every 4 rounds do 10 wall balls (Ruck thrusters if you don’t have a medicine ball)

GOAL: get 12 rounds minimum
AMRAP starts right after the 800m run…

This is a great workout and really good preparation for the welcome party PT session at the start of a GORUCK Challenge. If you’re training for a Challenge, I definitely recommend mixing this workout in.

DC Mini-GRC for Kick A** Katie

As I’ve written about before, the GORUCK Tough community of GORUCK Challenge alumni is close knit and always ready to help when someone is in need. A few months ago, one GRT named Jason announced that his ten year old daughter Katie was going through a bone marrow transplant as part of her treatment for Cooley’s Anemia. Jason had set up a website for Katie to fundraise in support of her surgery and raise awareness about Cooley’s Anemia. Patches are a common thread in the GORUCK community and it didn’t take long for there to be a custom patch featuring “Kick A** Katie”, two unicorns (her favorite) and rainbows (because, per Katie, unicorns poop rainbows).

Jason also started to organize mini-GORUCK Challenges in support of Katie. Modeled on the real think, these min-GRCs are 4-5 hours and open to both GRTs and people who haven’t done a Challenge yet. The idea was to not only support spreading awareness into Cooley’s Anemia and Katie’s fight, but to introduce new people to a small taste of GORUCK-style good livin’.

This past Saturday I participated in the Mini-GRC DC event. It started at 7am at the White House Ellipse, with twelve participants and two GRTs playing the role of Cadre. Of the twelve, seven were GRTs and five were new to the world of GORUCK. We started off with a PT welcome party and before long were on our way towards the Lincoln Memorial. Within the first ten minutes of starting, we were given our log. It was probably about five to six feet long and weighed around 500 pounds. Logs are a great test of how well a team works together – can we find a system to keep the log up and moving? Or do we struggle with the enormity of the task? Well this team came together in a snap and developed a system to move the log with little trouble. This ended up being a sign for how we would work as a group throughout the mini-GRC. Everyone was there to support Katie and get work done. There was never any arguing or complaining. We just gelled.

The toughest part of this mini-GRC for me was the heat. When we started, it was already in the 90s and humid. By the time we were done it was over 100 and much more with the heat index. I’d hydrated like crazy the day before and was drinking water whenever possible, but still found the heat really tough to manage. When we made it to the Lincoln Memorial, we had to bear crawl up the steps and crab walk down. Near the top, one of our team threw up, but was able to continue on after a few minutes of down time. At the top of the Lincoln’s steps, I splayed out face down on the marble floor, in a spot of shade cast by a column. Less than two hours in and the heat was having its effects on me.

We moved from the Lincoln towards the Georgetown waterfront. With our next way point in sight, we were told to do walking flutter kicks for about 75-100 meters to our goal. For those that are unfamiliar, the walking flutter kick is a pretty brutal tool in the repertoire of GORUCK Cadre. It’s a buddy carry executed back-to-back, with both people wearing their rucks on their chest. The person doing the carrying has to move forward while the person being carried performs a flutter kick from their buddy’s back. This was my first time doing these and it’s a good deal harder than a regular buddy carry. At this point I was really overheating and feeling nauseous; doing this exercise was definitely the low-point for me during the mini-GRC.

Fortunately once we were done, we did a bit of PT in a giant fountain and cooled off substantially. It is impossible to put to words how good this felt, especially for how I was feeling at the time we hit the fountain.

From the waterfront, we made our way to one of the classic stops on a DC-based GORUCK Challenge: the Exorcist Steps. This long flight of steep stairs is one big, hearty dose of good livin’. There are three sections to it and we were instructed to box jump each step for the first section, bear crawl the second, and then after getting a little bit gassed, buddy carry up the third. Having not done a Challenge in DC before, I was a bit worried about the Exorcist Steps, but was able to get through it. At this point I was feeling much better, substantially cooled off, and ready to keep on rocking. The demons from the heat had been pushed from my mind and I really started to enjoy the mini-GRC to its fullest.

The last stretch involved a bunch more running and a false ending at Montrose Park. It seemed like we were done, but were instead lead down through the running trails of Rock Creek Park down to Rock Creek itself. We were instructed into the water and lined up to perform PT. If you have only ever driven past or run alongside Rock Creek, when you are standing in Rock Creek you learn that this water does not, in fact, smell as clean as it looks. This is definitely water that you do not want to drink. First up, though, was chest to deck push-ups. Since the water we were in was a foot and a half to two feet deep, each rep meant getting our head underwater. The first couple of reps were a bit tentative, but around this time the coolness of the water felt amazing.

By the time we were done with our water PT, I was sad to get out. With the thermometer reading over 100 degrees, a cool – albeit smelly and probably a bit toxic – creek was a great place to spend time. We made our way back up to Montrose and finished as so many Challenges finish: with buddy carries.

Katie, the girl we were honoring and supporting with our mini-GRC, was there as we finished. She was greeted by fourteen hot, dirty, sweaty people bearing a slight Eau de Rock Creek and smiles all around.

This was by no means a real GORUCK Challenge – it lasted around 4 hours and only covered about 5+ miles, though it was done on a day of record-setting heat in DC. But getting to meet this brave, young girl and see how well she is doing following her bone marrow transplant added an extra level of good livin’ to the experience. Our team working incredibly well together and all the people who were new to the Challenge expressed interest in doing a real Challenge in the future. Thanks to everyone who came out and participated, I had a blast. And thanks to Jason for inviting the GORUCK Tough community into his and Katie’s fight for health. Hopefully we’ll see her participating in a Challenge in 8-10 years!


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